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Employee resource groups, sometimes known as affinity groups, are voluntary, employee-led groups designed to foster a diverse, inclusive, and respectful workplace. They can provide opportunities for employees to establish internal networks, develop skills, and identify opportunities for personal growth.
Employees frequently form ERGs around shared characteristics or common interests, such as:
• Sexual orientation
• Gender identity or expression
• Race or ethnicity
• Veteran status
• Working parent status
• Disability status
ERGs tend to increase employee engagement, boost retention and recruitment efforts, and help identify and eliminate barriers to equal opportunity. Although ERGs are run by employees, employers can and should support ERGs and their members by recognizing and acknowledging ERG leaders, providing forums for ERGs to communicate with leadership, and developing collaborative relationships.
Despite the benefits of ERGs, employers can encounter legal obstacles when recognizing or interacting with them. Many groups are organized around a protected class status—employees who are excluded could claim discrimination. In order to create a more inclusive environment, ERGs should be open to all employees who share the group's goals, even if they don't share specific characteristics. An ERG can communicate that inclusive membership standard through a mission statement in which open participation by any employee is clear.
Employers should be cautious when deciding to recognize an ERG. They should establish rules and guidelines that can address future ERG requests without discriminating against employees based on employees’ protected class status. Decisions should take into account an employer's goals and culture, and not be based on arbitrary preferences. Employers should review federal, state, and local discrimination laws before recognizing an ERG or committing funds or denying an ERG.